The Houston Texans (8-5) are preparing for an all-out brawl on the field this week against the Tennessee Titans (8-5) in an AFC South matchup that has playoff seedings on the line. The loser of this game will be fighting for a wildcard spot in a crowded AFC division where some teams that are under .500 are still in contention to make the postseason.
After a signature franchise win versus the reigning Super Bowl Champions (New England Patriots) a week prior in a nationally televised game on Sunday Night Football, the Houston Texans followed that performance with a major let down by losing to a Denver Broncos team led by rookie quarterback Drew Lock making his second career start in the NFL. That loss combined with a Titans win over the Oakland Raiders put the two teams in a tie for the AFC South. The Texans own the tie breaker over Tennessee by having the better divisional record.
Houston hopes to get one of their best offensive weapons back on the field this Sunday in wide receiver Will Fuller. He was held out of the Broncos game due to injury and his status for this weekend has yet to be determined by the team. Fuller’s ability to stretch the field helps quarterback Deshaun Watson and the rest of the Texans offense put pressure on opposing defenses.
“It's another weapon (Fuller) that makes a lot of big time plays and that can take the top off and do some great things for us,” said Watson when asked how important it is to have Fuller on the field. “Definitely seeing how the week goes, and we can definitely use him.”
One of the hottest teams in the AFC not named the Baltimore Ravens, is the Tennessee Titans. After replacing quarterback Marcus Mariota in Week 7 with free agent Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee has won six of their last seven games after starting the season with an abysmal 2-4 record.
Inserting a new quarterback wasn’t the only change made on offense by the Titans. They started feeding running back Derrick Henry who has seen his carries (21.5) and rush yards (149) increase over the last four games. Henry is currently the NFL’s second leading rusher (1,243 yards) and could cause major problems for a Texans team that is ranked 18th in rush defense giving up 110 yards per game.
"I think he's just probably got a little bit better grasp each and every week as this thing goes,” Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said about the resurgence of Henry this season. “He's very durable. He's a very durable, physical player and I think he understands that that's the role he has to take.”
Another bright spot for the Titans these last three weeks has been the play of rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown. The University of Mississippi product has averaged 111 yards receiving the last three weeks and had a career high 153 yards last week against Oakland. Houston defenders must pay close attention to him this week and not allow his play to open bigger running lanes for Henry.
Houston has not lost consecutive games this season and has shown an ability to bounce back from losses very well. That is a strong testament to head coach Bill O’Brien and his assistants to put losses behind them and move on to the next opponent.
“This is the National Football League,” O’Brien said at his press conference on Monday. “It’s football. Football is a confrontational sport. Things sometimes in football don’t go the way you want them to go. Football is a game that’s played by and coached by people that are mentally tough and played by people that are mentally and physically tough. We just need to come in here and get back to work.”